They've got the jitters in the 'Naki. Twice this season the amber-and-black XV has headed out of town with intentions of collecting victory and twice they have been well beaten.

Taranaki were rubbed out in the opening game against an inspired Northland team but regrouped and made steady progress. Until they came to both Eden Park and McLean Park where they were given a tune-up.

The result against Auckland might have been expected though not the limpness of the defeat.

But Hawkes Bay? All sorts of excuses did the rounds. Taranaki took it easy, they made too many changes and were recovering from the union's 125th anniversary celebrations capped by the win against Canterbury.

Recriminations count for nothing, retribution does. And that has to start tomorrow night, at home, against Southland.

Otherwise those mathematicians who hover around the fringes of the ITM Cup will be tut-tutting over their calculators. Guesstimates suggest Taranaki need to win three of their last four games to make the semifinals.

They have Southland this weekend, before a home tussle against Manawatu and an awkward away finish against Wellington and North Harbour.

All the concentration has to be on dealing to Southland, the gnarly Ranfurly Shield holders, a side which may only get Jimmy Cowan into the All Blacks but has plenty of other tough campaigners.

Cowan hasn't been playing anyway, it has been younger brother Scott who has barked out the orders to his pack, harried the opposition, run at gaps and nudged kicks ahead of his forwards.

And haven't those men with the small numbers on their jerseys thrived.

Massive prop Jamie Mackintosh improves all the time. He's had a few technical hassles at scrums, but his leadership and "follow-me" example has been as big as his 128kg frame.

Opponents who have tried to sneak past Mackintosh have been sacked and driven back by Southland's captain who seems to have gained more mana during this Shield tenure.

His frontrow colleagues Jason Rutledge and Chris King have also had busy seasons, impressing with a workrate that was not always evident outside their core duties.

They have been immense, as has Josh Bekhuis who continues to add athletic dimensions and support running to his lineout acumen. He cannot be far from an All Black sniff while Joe Tuineau's aerobic clout has been harnessed well to his locking duties.

Slap on the abrasive looseforward clout of men like Kane Thompson, John Hardie, Dion Bates and Tim Boys and it is a potent and unbending eight.

Atrocious weather may have helped them, as many games have been decided by rugged forward duels.

That roll-your-sleeves-up territory is mana for Southland, who have tacked on Cowan and Robbie Robertson's expertise with the boot, a solid defensive line and claimed all but one result this season. It is a compelling formula and just the business for the southern supporters.

Southland will have looked admiringly at the way Hawkes Bay opened up the Taranaki pack. If that was the template, they reckoned, bring it on.

They will also attack the inside channels around Taranaki five-eighths Willie Ripia, they will look to get over the advantage line there before pushing on or stretching wide.

Taranaki have welded some exciting backline talent to their earnest hardworking pack, but they have been too inconsistent in defence. Captain Craig Clarke is aware of the deficiencies and how imperative it is to return to the winner's list.

"It frustrates me because we know we are not a good enough side to win games if we are not there mentally. To come out in a game and not be there is really frustrating."